Breathe Easier: 3 Steps to Better Indoor Air Quality

Simple ways to protect your health both indoors and out.

Indoor Air Quality
Robin Bartholick/Getty Images

When we think about pollution, we usually think about outdoor air quality. But the quality of the air we breathe inside our homes, offices, and other indoor spaces might be even more important.

After all, most of us spend the majority of our time indoors. And the quality of our indoor air can be 100 times worse than the outside air! That’s why the US Environmental Protection Agency calls indoor air pollution one of the top five environmental health risks.

Indoor Air Pollutants

Indoor air pollution comes from a number of sources. And it causes or contributes to a host of problems, including cancers, respiratory illnesses, and many allergic reactions.

Here’s a partial list:

  • Home heating – oil, gas, kerosene, coal and wood

  • Tobacco products

  • Asbestos

  • Wet / damp carpet or building materials

  • Cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products

  • Household cleaning products

  • Personal care products

  • Radon

  • Pesticides

  • Outdoor air pollution.

Bad Air Is Everywhere

If that list leaves you scratching your head, no wonder. Indoor air pollution is everywhere. And it’s hard to know what to do about it. After all, you have to clean. You have to heat your home. You can’t do a whole lot about the pollution outside. So what should you do?

First, take a deep breath (if you dare).

Although some sources of indoor pollution are largely out of your control, others can be easily managed.

All it takes is a bit of planning.

There are three key ways to deal with indoor air pollution. Let’s take a look.

Remove the Offender

Removing the offending source is usually the most effective method of addressing poor air quality. So try this method first.

For example, if you’re not sure about radon levels in your home, have it tested.

And if you find out the levels are too high, you can work on reducing them.  

Same thing with removing moldy sheetrock or switching to unscented cleaning products.

Some of these fixes will be easy and inexpensive, while others might be more time-consuming or costly. But overall, removing the source is never a bad idea.

Improve Ventilation

Improving ventilation can vastly improve the air quality of your home. And best of all, it’s a really easy fix.

Simply opening windows and allowing the household air to exchange with air outdoors will decrease levels of many pollutants in your home. This is particularly important when you’re doing activities that can generate high levels of pollutants, such as painting or other home improvement projects, or even cooking.

Opening windows for at least 15 minutes every day will help to ensure better air quality and humidity levels in your home. Of course, the weather will sometimes prevent that. But every little bit helps.

Clean the Air

Air cleaners, such as HEPA filters, can also be useful aids.

It is important to note, however, that not all HEPA filters are created equal. Some are highly effective at removing particles, while others are not.

Also, generally speaking, most filters are not designed to remove gas pollutants, only particles. So it’s important to consider the source of your home’s poor air quality before investing.

Another, sometimes overlooked “filter” is the houseplant. True, the research on plants’ ability to decrease gas pollutants is limited. So far, their effectiveness has only been demonstrated in a lab and not a real-life home. (Incidentally, NASA did the testing.)

But the indications are promising and it certainly won’t hurt to add a few beautiful plants to your décor.

Be aware, however, that some plants can be poisonous to cats, dogs, and children, so discuss this when purchasing and take care with their placement. If you’ve taken those simple precautions, adding plants to your home can help to clean its air.

Breathing Easy

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you discover just how common indoor air pollution is—and how dangerous. But by taking a few simple steps, you can manage the risks. And it won’t be long until you and your family are breathing better.


Arif AA, Delclos GL, Serra C. 2009. Occupational exposures and asthma among nursing professionals. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 66(4): 274-278.

Bernstein JA, Brandt D, Rezvani M, Abbott C, Levin L. 2009. Evaluation of cleaning activities on respiratory symptoms in asthmatic female homemakers. Annals of Allergy Asthma and Immunology 102(1): 41-46.

Caress SM, Steinemann AC. 2009. Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population. Journal of Environmental Health 71(7): 46-50.

Karlberg AT, Bergstrom MA, Borje A, Luthman K, Nilsson JL. 2008. Allergic contact dermatitis–formation, structural requirements, and reactivity of skin sensitizers. Chemical Research in Toxicology 21(1): 53-69.

Steinman D. 2010. Results of Testing for 1,4-Dioxane by Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry.

Continue Reading